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Haunting & poltergeist-like episodes
The scholarly research about capturing haunting and poltergeist like phenomena.
By Timothy M. Harte,  Michael T. Hollinshead & David L. Black ( 1996 )
Based on our associated  work with Houran, J., Lange, R., & Black, D. L. UIS (1996)

MESA software & Unit is the sole property of MESAProject.org and David L. Black.

 

 

 

 


   Haunting phenomena, including poltergeist-like episodes, has been defined as visual, auditory, and olfactory hallucinations; sensed presence, including the feeling of not being alone, or a touch; erratic functioning of equipment, usually of a mechanical or electrical nature; unexplained strong emotional episodes; and object movement. Haunting phenomena has also been described as "anomalous sensory experiences and physical changes in the environment" (Harte, Black, & Hollinshead, 1999).  These phenomena have traditionally been a topic of qualitative study through observational and survey methods (e.g., Podmore, 1896-97; Lombroso, 1906; Barrett, 1911; Flammarion, 1924; Rogo, 1978). In fact the recent work by Schmeidler (1966) was the first to approach subjective reports through the use of quantitative statistical analyses of adjective checklists and floor plans. The approach has subsequently been improved by other researchers (Maher & Schmeidler, 1975; Maher & Hansen, 1992, 1995; Roll & Brittain, 1986).  It should be pointed out, however, that the work cited above is limited to the analysis of subjective reports.
    There is now an accumulating body of evidence alleging that known, conventional physical energies may be mediating or allegedly causing hauntings and poltergeist-like episodes.  These energies include ionizing radiation (Devereux, 1990; Radin & Roll, 1994, 1996; Roll, 1994; Roney-Dougal, 1991), geomagnetic activity (Gearhart & Persinger, 1986; Persinger, 1981, 1985, 1988, 1993; Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Persinger & Lafreniere, 1977; Persinger & Richards, 1995; Randall & Randall, 1991), and localized electromagnetic and electrostatic fields (Cook & Persinger, 1997; Green, Parks, Guyer, Fahrion, & Coyne, 1992; Persinger, 1975; Radin & Roll, 1994, 1996; Roll, Sheehan, Persinger & Glass, 1996; Shallis, 1989).  Persinger contends that extreme or unusual forms of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can directly influence the physical environment (Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Persinger & Lafreniere, 1977) and the psychophysiological functioning of those who are exposed (Cook & Persinger, 1997; Persinger, 1988, 1993; Persinger & Cameron, 1986).  Observational and survey methods will need to be done along with specialized mechanical devices capable of detecting small variations of the physical energies mentioned above.
    Charles Tart (1965) was the first researcher to call for the utilization of instrumentation in studying and recording haunting and poltergeist-like phenomena.  The revolution of electronics since then has made the use of microcomputers as well as various sensing devices readily available and at reasonably affordable prices.  With this in mind, MESA (multi-energy sensor array) was designed and built for this purpose.  It could also be used for research in any environment, whether there are electromagnetic fields present, or not, for the purpose of control measurement data.

Previous equipment utilized in the measurement of haunting and poltergeist-like phenomena

Photography
    Still and motion-picture photography has been used in several studies and with various types of film media.  Some have been successful in the use of recording ostensible RSPK (recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis) phenomena in process.  For example, two studies (Karger & Zicha, 1968; Rosenberg, 1974) managed to film object movements such as the swinging of ceiling lamps and pictures on the wall.  In addition, Uphoff and Uphoff (1984) reported that still-photography captured a telephone in motion, and Bender (1969) documented an object movement during a poltergeist case by using three cameras which guarded against tampering and would have been triggered by the physical penetration of a photoelectric "light curtain."
    Nevertheless, unusual distortion effects captured with still photography are more often  reported in the literature, and on the Internet (www.prairieghosts.com) but they must be cautiously interpreted.  Investigators have reported fogging effects on Polaroid film (Maher & Hansen, 1995; Nichols, 1994), density spots and light streaks on infrared film (Maher & Hansen, 1992; Maher & Schmeidler, 1975; Taff & Gaynor, 1976), unusual light effects on videotape (Maher & Hansen, 1995) as well as film that has been underexposed (Permutt, 1983).  Although there are many ordinary sources for these anomalies, at least some film effects seem to be associated with the presence of intense EMFs.  For instance, Nichols (1994) noted that fogging effects often appear on Polaroid film when magnetometer readings begin to "fluctuate wildly, with the needle going off the scale" (pp. 49-50); control pictures taken after the intense readings subside reveal no such anomalies.
    In addition, Nichols (1994) was reportedly designing a photographic unit that would automatically take pictures when EMF readings exceed a baseline.  However, different types of emulsion are sensitive to different wavelengths.  Accordingly, photography should be coupled with various measurements of EMFs in order to help discriminate processing errors from possible electromagnetic effects (see e.g., Hattersley, 1981, pp. 60-70, 387-394).  Still-motion photography is limited in its capacity to document electromagnetic energy in a continuous manner.  Thus, it may be more effective to use inexpensive infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light wavelength monitoring devices only.
 
Thermal Sensors
    A more advanced approach (Andrews, 1977) involves a visual record of temperature fields using a device called Thermovision.  This instrument has a detection range of -30 degrees C to 850 degrees C.  It has a maximum sensitivity of 0.2 degrees C temperature difference.  The advantage of this approach is its selectable temperature increments for display, the use of wide-angle lenses for optimal coverage of areas, and provision of continuous video recording of multiple characteristics such as shape, intensity, and manner of propagation of temperature fields.  The main disadvantages to Thermovision are the limitations to temperature fields and the considerable cost.
    Unfortunately, traditional thermometers have been criticized for being too slow and crude to effectively detect transitory temperature effects (Osis, 1982) involving so-called "cold spots."  Extremely sensitive thermistors can register minute and sporadic changes, but a hypothesis put forth by Persinger (1975) implicated the Peltier effect in theses sensations.  That is, if an electric current is passed through two conductors separated by a thermoelectric material, a temperature change takes place depending upon the direction of the current.
    New laser-guided thermal guns are being utilized in the detection of "cold spots," with some success (www.adventuresbeyond.com).  They can provide some information for researchers to see if cold spots move, how they change temperature, and are instantaneous.  Simultaneous measurement with magnetometers may provide a better method of documenting the phenomenon.
 
Geological Measurements
    In addition to the factors discussed by Persinger (1975), researchers note the need to consider seismic activity and earth tremors (Lambert, 1955; Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Persinger & Lafreniere, 1977), meteorological conditions (Randall & Randall, 1991; www.spaceweather.com), and the chemical nature of the location being investigated (Wust, 1955).  While seismic activity may be reasonably measured or inferred from variations in vibration and strain gauges (e.g., Osis, 1982, Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Dingwall & Hall, 1958), the results from monitoring ultra-short waves, the content of carbonic acid, methane, and ethane in the air, and the geophysical nature of the subsoil, as emphasized by Wust (1955), have received little attention in the literature.  Some researchers are taking this into consideration, along with subterranean water movement, in some locations (Roll, 1999).
 
Tape-Recorders
    Tape-recorders, sometimes equipped with specialized microphones, parabolic dishes, or diodes to capture subsonic and ultrasonic frequencies (Lester, 1991; Nichols, 1994; Ellis 1978;) have recorded anomalous voices (Bayless, 1980; Raudive, 1971) and alleged RSPK sounds (Hovelmann, 1982; Karger & Zicha, 1968; Lester, 1991; Osis, 1982; Pratt & Palmer, 1976).
    Ellis (1978) concluded that the interpretation of so-called Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) effects was highly subjective, susceptible to imagination and that the sounds were most likely a natural phenomenon.  On the other hand, Marke and Jenkins (as reported in Bord & Bord, 1989) reported evidence from a 1982 study that may suggest some anomalous sounds are related to EMFs.  They connected electrodes to a stone wall in an allegedly haunted building, fed 20,000 volts of electricity through the electrodes, and tape-recorded the proceedings.  When the tapes were played back they discovered a variety of sounds, including unintelligible voices, music, and a clock ticking (there was no clock in the room where the recording was made).  The investigators hypothesized that the stone walls contained similar substances, like silica and ferric salts, to those in recording tapes, and that the stones somehow "recorded" past sounds which can be played back when the electrons in the silica are triggered.  Researchers continue to document EVP and subsequently the results are ambiguous, as each researcher listening to the tape interprets it differently.
    Analogous to photography, a system for collecting sound frequencies along with measurements of physical energy has been implemented (Harte, Black & Hollinshead, 1999).  The new version of MESA (multi-energy sensor array) has the capability of recording continuous 16-bit sound onto the same recording as all of the other electromagnetic frequencies.  This system is being utilized in field investigations.
 
Psychophysiological Measurements
    Beyond the standard measures described above, modern research methods have become increasingly sophisticated.  Notably, two unsuccessful attempts have been made to measure the brain-wave patterns of agents (i.e., persons around whom anomalous incidents seem to focus) while in the field with a portable transistor electroencephalogram (Pratt & Palmer, 1976; Solfvin & Roll, 1976).  Improvements in portable transistor systems may help address the problematic and ambiguous evidence for current hypotheses for RSPK, such as central nervous system disturbances in focal persons (Martinez-Tabaos, 1984).  For example, Dunseath, Klein, and Kelly (1981) developed such a unit to study focal persons that is based on an FM/FM radiotelemetry system by which psychophysical data are broadcast from a small device attached to the agent to a nearby receiving unit.  Although this system purportedly avoids technical problems noted in previous applications of telemetry, we are aware of utilizing a system like this in the recording of electromagnetic frequencies, and the heart rate, respiration, and galvanic skin response of an agent (Harte, Black, & Hollinshead, 1999).
    However, poltergeist-like phenomena are known to occur without a focal person (Cornell & Gauld, 1960; Osis & McCormick, 1982; Pierce, 1973; Stevenson, 1972) or when the supposed agent is absent (Roll, 1970, 1976).  Accordingly, telemetric EEG units are not needed for researching electromagnetic patterns in the environment that coincide with poltergeist-like effects.  These authors are conducting some preliminary investigations utilizing telemetry units and galvanic skin response (GSR) to look for patterns of changes in electromagnetic energy and coinciding with agents' response.
Magnetometers, Radiation Detectors and Computer-Based Approaches
    Persinger & Cameron (1986) used a mechanical vibration sensor that detected two brief but intense electromagnetic events during an investigation of a reported poltergeist-like episode.  Other researchers have used small hand-held magnetometers (Nichols, 1994; Radin & Roll, 1994, 1996; Roll, Maher & Brown, 1992; Roll, Sheehan, Persinger & Glass, 1996).  These types of sensors have allowed associations to be made between anomalous experiences and higher-than-average ambient levels of electromagnetic fields (e.g., Radin & Roll, 1994) or intense, periodic electromagnetic events (e.g., Persinger & Cameron, 1986).
    Similarly, Karger & Zicha (1968) fitted a line recorder of a power station with a voltage magnifier to document approximately fifteen unusually intense deflections at regular intervals that coincided with audible "bangs."  Although these sound effects were tape-recorded, their interpretation remains ambiguous because they were recorded on two separate devices without a common time scale so it was not possible to relate one event to the another.
    At least one investigation utilizing a Geiger counter yielded no significant results (Maher & Schmeidler, 1975), but other studies have reported anomalous readings based on a computer-monitored device to collect ionizing radiation data (Radin & Roll, 1994,1996).  The use of computers may become desirable for the exploratory opportunities they offer.  For example, Maher & Hansen (1992, 1995) used a diode-based computerized random number generator (RNG) during two studies of alleged hauntings; however, no statistically significant differences in RNG output were found between target and control areas.
 
Erratic Functioning of Electrical Equipment:  A Peculiar Effect
    The malfunctioning or erratic functioning of electrical equipment has been reported in modern cases.  Typically these effects involve electric current surges, telephone rings, and light bulb failures (Bayless, 1984; Bender, 1969; Lawden, 1979; Roll, 1976; Tringale, 1980); however, erratic functioning also occurs with research instrumentation.  For example, Playfair and Grosse (1988) reported that the collection of data was hindered during an investigation because equipment "would frequently break down, behave erratically, or not work at all" (pp. 213-214).  These researchers cite several examples, including one instance in which a commercial technician dismantled a tape-recorder to find an internal metal component had been inexplicably bent.  It has been suggested that poltergeist-like phenomena cease when instrumentation is employed (Bierman, 1979).  Nevertheless, if these types of effects occur only at target sites, then they might be interpreted as relevant.
 
Conclusion
    In summary, a common feature of these approaches described above is the tendency to focus on single, isolated regions of the electromagnetic spectrum whose fluctuations are taken to be indicative of ostensibly paranormal events.  A possible exception is Osis's (1982) custom-built portable chart recorder that can record movements and vibrations by means of strain-gauge sensors connected to a strip-chart recorder.  The unit is not designed to sample multiple variables simultaneously in a self-contained fashion, but Osis's (1982) approach reportedly allows an independently tape-recorded sound to be slowed down to "approximately a fifth of its original speed" so that the sound waves can be "visually traced" and the different frequency wavebands of the recorded noises individually graphed on the strip-chart recorder.  However, the authors are not aware of any studies utilizing this apparatus.
 
Rationale for a Multi-Energy Sensor Array
    Although the study of isolated variables suggests that EMFs are involved in processes underpinning many of the psychological experiences and physical manifestations characteristic of RSPK outbreaks, it seems likely that most phenomena of interest involve a complex interaction of physical processes (Karger & Zicha, 1968; Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Radin & Rebman, 1996; Radin & Roll, 1996).  In addition, Savitz (1993) argued that the interactions among the various frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum might be of crucial importance considering the notable different effects of ionizing radiation, microwaves, and visible light on physiological functioning.  Consequently, a description of such a phenomenon in terms of single variables may not be sufficient, unless such variables can be measured and correlated simultaneously over time.  Therefore, we (Harte, Black, & Hollinshead, 1999) have devised a portable, computerized multi-energy sensor array in a new configuration.  This is a data collection system, which can facilitate this task by permitting one researcher instead of a group of investigators to operate the multiple sensors and collect EMF data.  In this way, internal validity of quasi-experimental field studies may be improved, while the investigator(s)'susceptibility to the effects of group dynamics and perceptual contagion can be minimized.
    MESA has a maximum of eight sensor inputs that lead to a data-acquisition board and a laptop computer.  A phone link can be used to upload data to a larger computer system with a greater secondary capacity storage.  The unit is self-contained and powered by a 12V marine deep-discharge battery, allowing MESA to collect environmental data for up to fifteen hours.
    Technical specifications for MESA, including ranges of measurement, sensitivity, and shielding, are described elsewhere (Harte, Black, & Hollinshead, 1999) as well as calibration of the sensors.  Therefore, we briefly describe the individual components used in the new configuration of MESA together with their functional properties.
 
Sensors
    The new configuration of MESA includes the measurement of static electromagnetic fields, perhaps one of the most important frequencies to be studied on the elecromagnetic spectrum and its relation to human physiological functioning.
    Channel 1:  The Infrared (IR) Photoresistor consists of a single transistor whose base region is sensitive to infrared wavelengths.  Connections to the base and emitter terminals of the transistor make it possible to use as a variable-resistance device.  The infrared photoresistor is most sensitive to the infrared (long-wavelength light) regions and is almost instantaneous in response, in the nanosecond range.
    Channel 2:  The CdS photoresistor operates in the variable resistance mode and is sensitive to visible light.  The frequency sensitivity curve for the photoresistor is very close to that of the human eye.  Its temporal response is variable, depending on how quickly the intensity of the light is changing.  Minor variations appear to be tracked precisely.  For instance, the 60 Hz flicker of a fluorescent light is easily seen on the output of this detector, but large intensity changes can require up to two seconds to be reflected accurately in this sensor.
    Channel 3:  The Ultraviolet Meter was donated by Steve Mackin, of Solartech, Inc., Model 5.0.  It is both a UVA and UVB sensor that is sensitive to ultraviolet wavelength light.  It too, has an instantaneous output, and operates in the variable resistance mode.  It has an irradiation range of 0-199.9 mW/cm squared, +/- 5% accuracy, and a weight of 4.5 ounces.
    Channel 4:  The Tri-Field Meter (AlphaLab, Inc.) may detect three fields -- magnetic, electric, and radio-frequency, with two ranges for magnetic fields, 0 to 3 milligauss (mG) and 0 to 100 mG.  The three fields could easily be sampled simultaneously by fitting more than one Tri-Field meter to MESA.  Because field studies particularly implicate magnetic ranges (e.g., Nichols, 1994; Persinger, 1985; Persinger & Cameron, 1986; Radin & Roll, 1994, 1996), one Tri-Field meter is used to measure AC magnetic fields at 60 Hz frequency.
    Channel 5:  The vibration/relative seismic activity sensor is a large piezo-electrc transducer, which is mechanically coupled to a 10-pound weight that functions as a suitable structure to stand by itself on the floor.  A 1 pound bolt is placed directly on the transducer, and a glass globe is placed over the bolt to protect it from breezes from air conditioning systems, or from the wind outside.  
    Channels 6-8:  The static elecromagnetic field sensors (Speake & Company) are very highly sensitive sensors operating in the +/- 50 microtesla range (+/- 0.5 oersted).  They are simple, essentially three terminal devices, operating from a single +5 volt supply.  The range covers the earth's field magnitude, so multiple sensors can easily be arranged to provide compass orientation or full three-dimensional orientation, using the local earth's field as a reference guide.
 
Placement of the Sensors
    Currently, the sensors are placed at the base of a microphone stand (Atlas, Inc.) with the Tri-Field meter on the top of the stand.  The stand is then raised to approximately five feet, seven inches, where a human brain might experience 60 Hz AC fields.  Eventually, the sensors will be placed into a wooden box, two feet by two feet, with a light source also affixed to the box.  This light source will act as a control, as a standard or comparison to see if anomalous phenomena will interact, or somehow affect, the control light source.  Another sampling run will not involve the control light source, as a baseline for the experimental site.  The sensors are easily moved by disconnecting the BNC connections on the cables, and moving the box to another location within a site, if necessary.
 
Reporting the Data
    Following the collection of the data, Fast Fourier Transformations (FFT) analysis can be implemented and transferred to graphs for further analysis.  This analysis program has been installed directly onto the hard drive of the laptop computer.  Data files can be analyzed and graphs printed to examine the measurements of the electromagnetic spectra.  Several strategies may be employed to improve the stationary qualities of the time-series data:
1.  Epochs of data that are adequately stationary can be selected from the time-series for spectral analysis, and then subsequently combined, provided the segments are taken from sites under the same conditions.  A test for non-stationarity of time-series data has ben developed by Weber, Molenaar, and Van der Molen (1992).  This method essentially "searches" the time-series information for the longest stationary segments, extracting only those segments, prior to submission for power spectral analysis.
2.  The time series data can be mathematically modeled into components, separating non-stationary components such as aperiodic linear trends from more stationary ones (Gottman, 1990).  An example of this strategy is found in the method of Porges (Porges & Bohrer, 1990), which essentially generates a new, filtered time-series, presumed devoid of undesired elements contributing to the data variability.
3.  Another method is to analyze the data to see if there is a "fingerprint."  Correlation of multiple channels across energy/spectra to see how the various frequencies may interact with the human brain, or physiological functioning.  If there are problematic environments that are alike, what are the physiological, psychological, and physical complaints reported by people in those environments?  If environments are different, what type of psychological and physiological symptoms occur in those "different" environments?  Environments without these psychological and physical complaints are being measured as well, as control sites.
    Other configurations of MESA may include the introduction of a human subject into an environment.  Galvanic skin response (GSR) of a subject could be measured, as well as heart rate, respiration, and electric activity of the brain.  These sensors could easily be fitted to MESA.  Some researchers think that EMFs could entrain the activity of the brain.
 
Discussion

   With proper controls against tampering (fraud is not uncommon in poltergeist cases, see e.g., Gregory, 1980; Nickell, 1997; Roll, 1977), the capacity for one investigator to operate MESA or the fact that MESA can be set to run with out researchers having to be physically present will allow the use of research designs that could not be realized otherwise.  It is important to note that advanced systems such as MESA are not intended to replace on-site investigators; we feel the ideal approach to the study of hauntings and poltergeist-like episodes involves researchers who possess honest approaches and practical, clear-headed techniques.  We also utilize low-light 8mm and closed-circuit television cameras to monitor MESA.  Other equipment includes motion detection, stereo cassette or reel-to-reel audio tape-recorders, and sometimes microcassette recorders to verify anomalous phenomena.  MESA has the capability of modifications to be made, depending on where it is used and what is being measured.  Clearly, the range of possible sensor combinations for MESA offers many opportunities for research.  The authors hope to do studies of EMFs in offices, and outside around power facilities, lines, and substations.
    Investigations, however, should not be limited solely to the measurement of physical variables.  Researchers contend (Radin & Roll, 1994; Teguis & Flynn, 1983), that the interactions among physical, psychological, and psychobiological variables are crucial to the genesis of these experiences.  Consequently, MESA data may be supplemented with various measures of personality and biological factors, such as tolerance of ambiguity and temporal lobe stability, which contribute to the psychological responses to EMF-stimulation as well as ambiguous stimuli in the environment.

 
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